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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 4

 

 

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Verse 1

3. Arraignment before the Sanhedrin, Acts 4:1-22.

1. Though no other speech is given than Peter’s, and that probably but in outline, the plural they implies that John also addressed the people. That a great crowd had gathered into the porch is clear from the large number of converts mentioned in Acts 4:4. That the exercises were of some hours appears also from the late hour to which the judicial commitment (Acts 4:3) brought them. Time enough had elapsed for the authorities, probably in Gazith, or even the Romans in Castle Antonia, to receive intelligence of the greatness of the gathering and the nature of the doctrines preached. The Jewish captain forthwith calls out the police of Levites who kept order in the temple grounds, and, led by some of the priests, with a few zealous Sadducees, came upon them so suddenly as to interrupt the two apostles as they spake. (Compare our notes on Matthew 23:12; Matthew 26:5; Matthew 26:47; Luke 13:1.)

Sadducees—It was by an unexpected revolution that the Sadducees became the leading assailants of Christianity. While Jesus lived his collisions were mainly with the Pharisees. His issue was mainly with the matters for which they were zealous, namely, the temple, the ritual, the rabbinical traditions. But after the death of Jesus his followers zealously attended the temple worship, while the doctrine of the resurrection became their prominent point, against which the Sadducees, holding neither angel, spirit, soul, nor resurrection, were utterly opposed. A Pharisee could say to himself: “These Nazarenes seem a very religious folk, always praying among themselves, and always attending the temple. They do, indeed, think the crucified Nazarene our prophesied Messiah, though he did not deliver our nation; but they say, what may possibly be true, that he is to come again and restore the kingdom to Israel.” So now when assailed by the Sadducean leaders the popular religious feeling sides with them, the chief Pharisee, Gamaliel, leads the way in their defence, and they actually triumph over the Sanhedrin! All goes smoothly until Stephen arises and restores the emphasis upon the doctrine that the Gentiles will be converted, and temple and ritual, and even nation, must disappear. Then all the Jewish parties unite, and the Pentecostal Church is scattered to the four winds.

See note Acts 8:1.


Verse 2

2. Grieved—Vexed or tired out.

Jesus… resurrection—We see, therefore, the three pretexts upon which this assemblage was broken up by the three assailing parties, the hierarchy, the military, and the theology: namely, By the priests, because these laymen taught the people; by the captain and his police, because so large a gathering was disturbing Solomon’s Porch, perhaps obstructing the passage through Gate Shushan, and threatening the tranquillity of the city; and by the Sadducees, because their doctrine was the resurrection.


Verse 3

3. In hold—Detention or imprisonment.

Eventide—Evening time. The old word tide signified time. The Jews had a double eve; the one beginning at about three o’clock, prayer time, (see note on Acts 3:1,) and the other at six o’clock or sundown. The proceeding at this time had just filled the interval between the two.


Verse 4

4. Many—Who as Jerusalemites had probably been acquainted personally with Jesus and his history, and as regular temple worshippers were religiously disposed. The author of “Ecce Homo” well remarks that probably nearly all the moral worth at this epoch in Jerusalem went into the Christian Church.

Five thousand—Adding since Pentecost two thousand men, without enumerating females and children. So that the body of actually professing believers may have been ten or twelve thousand. The number of Christians then was nearly as large as the present entire population of Jerusalem!


Verse 5

5. On the morrow—The night brought their imprisonment, the morning (probably early morning, note on Luke 21:38,) brought their arraignment.

Rulers… elders… scribes—The two apostles are now before the SANHEDRIN, for an account of which body see our note to Matthew 26:3. The case before them belongs to their jurisdiction over all cases of alleged miracle, their duty being to examine and decide, 1, whether the miracle be real, and, 2, whether it be a truly divine miracle or otherwise.


Verse 6

6. Annas—The same court, the same judges, are to be faced who arraigned their Divine Master some sixty days ago. (See notes on John 18:13; John 18:19.)

Caiaphas—See notes on Matthew 26:3; John 11:49.

John, and Alexander—However important these two characters were in their day, (and Luke intimates by mentioning them that they were weighty personages,) no other certain trace of them exists in any history besides this verse. They are indebted to their participation in the trial of these two humble apostles for all the sure record they have left on earth. Only some have conjectured that the first was Johanan Ben Tachai, famous in Jewish tradition; and others that Alexander was brother to Philo the Jew. (See notes on Luke 1:5; John 1:1.) But these were very ordinary names among the Jews; the former for its Old Testament odour and its propitious meaning, God favours; and the latter in honour of Alexander the Great, who was so gratefully remembered by the Jews for his kingly favour that they called all children of priestly rank born on the anniversary of his visit to Jerusalem by his name.

Kindred of the high priest—Meaning probably the relatives of Annas and Caiaphas in the Sanhedrin.

Gathered… Jerusalem—Coming in, perhaps, from their country homes to attend this session.

What gave this case such importance as to bring the highest dignitaries of the nation to the capital? They had a very grave case before them. A decisive miracle, attested and accredited by hundreds, had been performed within the very courts of the temple before the assembled crowds of worshipping Israel, and that in the name of the One claiming to be Messiah, whom their own high court, with these same high priests at its head, had sentenced to death. The question now to be decided is, Are these men prophets of Jehovah, or seducers to idolatry? Deuteronomy 13:1-5.


Verse 7

7. In the midst—If we may suppose the Sanhedrin sat in its customary semicircle, our apostles must have stood, attended by the healed lame-born, nigh its centre, facing the august Caiaphas, with his high-priestly assessors on either side, who may be supposed to propose the solemn question. (See notes on Matthew 26:3, and Acts 6:12-15.)

By what power… name—They ask not, Have ye indeed performed a miracle? but, By what authority? By medical, magical, demoniacal, or divine?

Or name—Incantators and exorcists were accustomed to perform their prodigies in the name of some mighty one, as Solomon, Abraham, Raphael, or God.


Verse 8

8. Filled with the Holy Ghost—The fresh, sanctifying, inspiring, and empowering Spirit of the Pentecost.

Fourth Speech of Peter—that before the Sanhedrin, 8-12.

Peter’s four speeches rise in a climax both of publicity and magnanimous boldness. The first was to the inner circle of the eleven; the second was before the pentecostal assembly; the third was before the Jews in Solomon’s Porch; this last is before the high court of the nation. The first filled up the ranks of the young Church; the second pronounced its manifesto; the third opened its aggressive movement upon Israel; this fourth announces the separation between the now dead Church of the past and the new living Church of the future.

Face to face stand the representatives of obsolete Judaism and those of vital Christianity. Here is commenced the rupture. Here the two begin to branch off, the apparently stronger into weakness and withering; the weaker into growth and power, revealing itself as the actual trunk. Says Wordsworth: “May not Caiaphas and Cephas be from the same root, כיפא? At first Cephas had quailed before Caiaphas, but now that the Holy Ghost is given, Caiaphas cannot resist Cephas, (Acts 4:14;) the one falls, the other rises.”

Ye rulers—As secular magistrates whom, in all things unforbidden of God, we are bound to obey.

Elders of Israel—The religious representatives of the old theocracy, who are bound to follow the divine order.


Verse 9

9. If we… be—Rather, since we are.

Good deed—Their misdeed is a good deed. There might seem a gentle sarcasm in this expression, but there was a warning and awakening truth.

Made whole—The Greek word is σεσωσται; the same word as is rendered saved in Acts 4:12, and should have been so rendered here.


Verse 10

10. You all, and all… Israel—The whole race, with its rulers at its head, is summoned to witness this new announcement.

By the name of—Not Solomon or Raphael, but of Jesus, Messiah, the Nazarene. (See note on Acts 3:6.) Had Peter said, In the name of Jehovah, God of Israel, it might have been safer for himself; it would have been true; but they would have considered him as staying within the bounds of their own old Judaism. It was according to their law that miracles be performed in the name of Jehovah. But when Peter pronounced the name of Jesus they recognized apostasy from Jehovah; and when he styled him Christ=Messiah, he adopted an impostor; and when he added, Nazarene, whom ye crucified, he uttered a shame and a charge to arouse their wrath; a charge which the ages since have fearfully reechoed.

Whom ye crucified—Guilty of a good deed, these prisoners arraign their judges for a most bloody deed.

By him—Heroic reiteration.

This man—Like at once a monumental proof and a firm confessor, the lame-born stands with his benefactors in the semicircle of the court.

Stand—And so his legs speak though his tongue be silent.


Verse 11

11. The Stone—Peter quotes Psalms 118 and thereby identifies Jesus with David, who there speaks in the first person. And Peter may have remembered that Christ quoted the same passage. Matthew 21:42. See note there.


Verse 12

12. Salvation in any other—As the building cannot be saved without the corner stone, so the world cannot be saved without this name.

Be saved— From the fact that the Greek word for saved is applied to the restoring of the lame-born, some commentators have thought that the salvation here named must also be of a temporal nature. But it is plain that Peter passes from a salvation which only the lame-born needs to a salvation they all needed, and that all men need. It is very absurd to suppose that Peter meant that in Jesus’ name we all are to be saved from bodily disease or any other temporal evil. Peter meant the same salvation as is ever implied in the very name of Jesus—he shall save his people from their sins. For man there is no Saviour but Christ; no salvation but from his atonement. Even those who never heard his name, if saved, are saved by his gracious power.

Actual faith by those who truly know him, and virtual faith, “the spirit of faith,” in those who know him not, are the tie which binds the sinner to the cross and its salvation.


Verse 13

13. Boldness—There was in their style both of action and language a clear, calm freedom; not as if they strained themselves to hardihood, but as if they were unconscious of any demand for nerve. It was quiet self-possession, as if they were speaking respectfully and evenly to equals.

Unlearned—Not literati, but men of the ordinary education.

Ignorant— Not a very correct translation. The word signifies that they were not priests, but laymen; not magistrates, but private men; not rabbis, but non-professional men.

Took knowledge—This does not mean (with Meyer and Dr. Gloag) that they now for the first time caught the idea that these men were followers of Jesus. This was known before they were apprehended, (Acts 4:2,) (Caiaphas and John were acquaintances, John 18:15,) and was the reason for their apprehension. Nor is there any thing that indicates (as Alford) that the memory of the court was now so awakened as to recollect the having seen them with Jesus; which would have been a fact of no significance. The Greek word signifies fully to know, to recognize, realize, appreciate. These very judges, Annas and Caiaphas, had but a few short weeks previously seen Jesus himself before them. And in these men, filled with the spirit of Jesus, they recognized and appreciated the same clear, divine self-possession and unshrinking retort, and they referred these qualities to their intimacy with the Master.

With Jesus— The preposition with was often used by the Greeks to express the attendance of inferiors upon a superior, as “Xenophon and those with him.”


Verse 14

14. Standing with them—The firmness of the man and the silencing power of his presence upon the rulers form a graphic picture.


Verse 15

15. Commanded… out—The apostles were directed to withdraw while their judges should hold consultation. It is not an unimportant, though in some sense an unanswerable question, how Luke obtained his information of what was said in privy council. There were many ways in which he might have obtained it, and there was some way in which he certainly did obtain it, since he here reports its substance to us. There may have been secret believers like Nicodemus in the council. Caiaphas, as above noted, knew John personally, (John 18:15,) and so report may have reached John through intermediates, and the Christians thus have been informed.


Verse 16

16. We cannot deny it—Hence we have a clear case of men acting against absolute knowledge, and endeavoring to suppress, not only known truth, but the acknowledged advocates of known truth. The solution of the fact is self-interest. These men feared to lose power by the propagation of truth.

Notable—Well known to all.


Verse 17

17. It spread no fartherIt refers not to the miracle, nor to its notoriety, but to the Christian doctrine, the unexpressed consequence of the miracle.


Verse 18

18. Speak—Privately.

Teach—Publicly.


Verse 19

19. Unto you more than unto God—The apostles here separate between God and the old theocracy, which is now of God forsaken. This Sanhedrin is to them a body of civil magistrates over a secular nation. Firmly, also, they recognise that where the decree of man contradicts the decree of God the former must give way. Government is government and law is law only and so far as divinely authorized; but no human government and no human law is authorized by the divine law to contradict and annul the divine law. No doubt this principle may be misused by disorganizers; but that can make no difference as to the intrinsic truth of the rule itself. No man has a right to sin against God because he is so ordered to do by a human government. He must obey to the last point, and of his non-obedience for righteousness’ sake he must suffer the consequences, unless, indeed, the right and obligation to revolution require open and belligerent resistance. Even heathens have acknowledged the existence of this divine law higher than human. Said the Achaean ambassadors at Rome, “We indeed revere you, O Romans! and if you so will we tremble before you; but we more revere and tremble before the immortal gods.” And Socrates is made by Plato to say: “I embrace and love you, O Athenians! but I obey God rather than you.”

Judge ye—The ye here is in contrast with we in the verse following. Judge for yourselves and take the consequences; but we—See note on Romans 13:1-7.


Verse 20

20. Cannot but speak—This cannot is, we suppose, a specimen of what a certain class of theologians absurdly call “a moral inability;” that is, “the cannot is a mere will not.” But the apostles really mean, they cannot in consistency with their moral obligations or their own highest well-being. The two things being incompatible but one can be done. And to say that they cannot do one is but a decisive way of saying that they have settled the point that they will do the other.

Seen and heard—The deeds and doctrines of Jesus.


Verse 21

21. Because of the people—The highest dignitaries of the nation had assembled upon the case; but a cold stiffness seems to paralyze all their movements. So far have they committed themselves that they can neither go forward nor back out. They are in the irresolute condition of men not without moral sensibility in a dilemma between the right and self-interest.

And then the people, who have no self-interest to oppose their convictions, are all in full tide with the apostles. The result of their action is disheartening failure.

All men—The word men, as its italics indicate, is added by the translators. The sense, of course, is that the feeling of the people was unanimous, not in affirming that Christianity is true against Judaism, but that this Nazarenism is compatible with true Judaism.


Verse 22

22. Forty years old—The apostle here follows the track of popular thought. The miracle was genuine, for both the notoriety and the age of the man so demonstrated it.


Verse 23

23. Their own company—The body of Christians at their own large assembly room. (See note on Acts 1:13.)


Verse 24

24. One accord—See note on Acts 2:1. This was their common prayer. Not that they all at once broke out into this utterance together, but that, uttered by some leading voice, (perhaps Luke’s own,) it was in heart the prayer of all.

God… made heaven—Their prayer is not to any saint, virgin, or angel, but to God sole and supreme, since he is both foundation and summit of all things.


Verse 25

25. By… David… said—Psalms 2. In that Psalm a son of God is endowed, as king upon Zion, with the empire of the world. The image is borrowed from David’s own, or perhaps Solomon’s, coronation, but enlarged to a superhuman magnitude. The Psalm was applied by the Jewish Church to the Messiah, and is in good proof that other Psalms do, under the image of David, shadow forth a far greater than David.


Verses 25-31

4. The Church triumphant over the Sanhedrin, Acts 4:23-31.

From the high court of the nation, in its dignity and deadness, we are now transferred to the retired “room” of the living Church. The separation is now forever initiated. In the heart and language of this inspired body, David, Christ, and their own souls are on one side with God, and the heathen, Herod, and the Jewish rulers are on the other. They spread their case before God and receive a miraculous response. That response is the divine affirmation that Jehovah is with them. The current of their prayer is this: Invoking the supreme God, (24,) they proclaim that the powers of evil are in arms against them, (25-28,) and implore that they may have divine aid to maintain the holy cause of Jesus, (29, 30.)


Verse 26

26. Heathen, people, kings, rulers, are all in array against Jehovah and his Anointed, (Psalms 2:2,) that is, his Messiah or Christ.


Verse 27

27. Herod… Pilate… Gentiles… Israel—All these four forces are pictured as gathered together at the crucifixion as the image of the persecuting powers still in operation.


Verse 28

28. To do… thy counsel—Happily, most happily, the rage of all these elements is limited and mastered, though not inspired or impelled, by the God which made heaven, Acts 4:24. Upon the rulers there is an Overruler. Here, as in Acts 2:23, (on which see our notes,) the dividing line between the human side and the divine side is so exquisitely drawn that God as Overruler is not made author or predeterminer of man’s sin. “It is not said,” Limborch well remarks, “that these powers gathered to do what thy hand and counsel decreed that they should do, or should by them be done, but simply to be done. God decreed that his Son Jesus should redeem the human race by his own sacrificial death, and that the Christian Church should be led through crosses and sufferings to life eternal. To this end it was not necessary that God should by his own decree or providence determine and powerfully direct the wills of certain particular men that they should slay Jesus or persecute his followers. But inasmuch as the kingdoms and powers of this world are, without divine prevention, in the hands of the wicked, to their power he simply leaves his Son. The very piety of Jesus and his followers becomes an incitement to men’s free voluntary malice, so that of their own wicked wills they accomplish the divine counsel of the sacrifice of Jesus, although God has neither foreordained their actions by his decree nor secured them by his providence.” And this distinction, we may add, is so carefully drawn by the disciples as to be plainly intentional. (See note on Acts 2:23.)


Verse 29

29. And now—Thus far we have had the statement of the case; the petition based upon it now commences. Amid the storm the Church prays not for the destruction of their foes, nor even for refuge or protection, but for boldness, or rather firm freedom in maintaining their sacred cause. It is a heroic martyr prayer.


Verse 30

30. By stretching—Literally, In the stretching. That is, Give boldness to us whilst thou art stretching forth thy hand in miraculous healing, and whilst signs and wonders are being done.


Verse 31

31. Place was shaken—In token of answering assurance to their prayer a measure of the Pentecostal miracle was repeated; the house was shaken, the Spirit bestowed, and a power of utterance was exercised.

Word of God with boldness—Prayer-strengthened and Spirit-inspired, these men now speak words of faith and firmness which no human power can disturb.

They are soon to feel the full trial of their dauntless spirit.


Verse 32

32. One heart… one soul—It is the outpouring of the Spirit, melting every heart in Christian love, which produces oneness. And that same melting of heart causes the stream of benevolence to flow.

Said… his own—The very term said implies that the law of property still remained while the surrender was in language and spirit. When men have virtually surrendered their lives, and are calmly standing in hourly danger of losing all earthly things, it is not so difficult to hold their property as not their own.


Verses 32-37

5. Second Repose PeriodCommunity of Goods, Acts 4:32-37.

The heart of the Church, confirmed by trial, is now expanded still more largely with the spirit of Christian liberality described in Acts 2:44-47. The laws of property are not founded in sin, but belong to the primitive nature of man. But, inasmuch as a rightful self-love remains after selfishness is purified away, so, even when the rights of ownership are undisturbed, property may in the spirit of a perfect liberality be so freely imparted as that its use becomes practically common. (See note on Acts 2:44.)


Verse 33

33. With great power—Natural and bestowed by the Spirit.

Resurrection—They had seen the risen Jesus, and they had mighty power in testifying to that fact as the fundamental point in the history of the Lord.


Verse 34

34. As many as—The phraseology is not strictly universal, expressing all. It was the voluntary custom that whose had real estate should sell it, all or in part. (See Acts 5:4.)


Verse 35

35. Apostles’ feet—Tables and desks were then less used than with us, and deposits would often be made on floor or ground. But officials, sitting on elevated seats, would receive presentations laid on the step of the platform at their feet.


Verse 36

36. Joses—Joseph.

Barnabas—Where a man had so ordinary a name as Joseph he needed a second name to individualize him. But this surname honoured as well as individualized its receiver.

Son of consolation— Perhaps more properly son of prophecy or preaching. Acts 13:1, he is called a prophet. The epithet was probably a testimony from the apostles to his sacred eloquence. Eusebius says he was one of the seventy. An Epistle said to be by Barnabas, and certainly of very early antiquity, is still extant.

A Levite—The Levites had no share in the division of Canaan to the twelve tribes, yet could own land within the precincts of the Levitical cities. But Barnabas may have owned land in his native Cyprus and have sold it in Jerusalem.

Of the country of Cyprus—Literally, by birth a Cyprian—Barnabas, the Cyprian, with his Levitical rank and training, his sacred eloquence, his wealth, and his noble presence, that made the Lystrans identify him with Jove, is here signalized among the many both on account of his future eminence, and for the purpose of picturing him in contrast with the unhappy pair next to be narrated. Barnabas becomes a star of the firmament, while Ananias goes down in darkness.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-4.html. 1874-1909.

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Saturday, August 24th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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